Which one is for you? Citroën C1 v Peugeot 108

What should be first on to your scone – clotted cream or jam? For lovers of cream teas, this is a critical question. The correct way is, of course, the Cornish way, with a layer of jam spread thinly on the scone, followed by a healthy dollop of clotted cream.

Devonshire folk would disagree, arguing with much vigour that it’s the other way around. As a Cornishman living in Devon, I’m naturally quite confused, but I still maintain that it’s jam first.

You could have a similar debate over the all-new Citroën C1 and Peugeot 108 city cars. Fundamentally, they are the same car, offering the same choice of engines and – aside from some minor differences in price – the end product is much the same. A bit like the aforementioned cream tea scone. Sure, the scone will look different, depending on which approach you prefer, but the flavour remains the same. It all comes down to personal preference.

Don’t worry, I’ll leave the cream tea analogy there, but not before settling the other debate once and for all. It’s scone, as in stone. Not scone, as in gone. Got that?

Citroen C1 in Coventry

A tale of two city cars

This month, I’ve tested the Citroën C1 and Peugeot 108 on UK roads. Firstly, the 108 was given its UK debut at the impressive Robins & Day Peugeot showroom in Birmingham. Then, a couple of weeks later, it was the turn of the Citroën C1, unveiled at Citroën’s HQ in Coventry. Two cities for two city cars – no questioning the choice of venues there.

In fact, the only question is, which one of these French upstarts should you buy?

Or is it? Well not really. The decision process won’t come down to how they drive. Buyers will choose between the Citroën C1 and Peugeot 108 based on factors such as price, offers, dealer support and the competition. And the competition element shouldn’t be underestimated.

Peugeot 108 at Number 108

A growing and highly-competive sector

Back in 2005, when the original Citroën C1, Peugeot 107 and Toyota Aygo trio were launched, the A-segment accounted for 117,000 units per annum. This year, this figure is set to exceed 242,000 units, with the Volkswagen up!/Skoda Citigo/SEAT Mii trio the current darlings of the sector and the new Hyundai i10 a vast improvement over the old model.

So the Citroën C1 and Peugeot 108 won’t have things their own way. Not least because there’s a Toyota Aygo looking to tell prospective buyers of the French duo to take a look at the Japanese option, “for fun’s sake” (Toyota’s words).

We haven’t driven the Toyota Aygo, so we can only go by other reports. But the headline changes are a lack of a 1.2-litre engine option in the Aygo, the benefit of a five-year warranty and – at £8,595 – a more expensive cost of entry. Oh, you’ll also have to make do with 168 litres of boot space, compared with 196 litres in the C1 or 108. That ‘funky’ rear-end comes at the expensive of practicality.

Peugeot 108 Allure 2014

Without wishing to dwell on the Aygo for too long – this is a French city car shoot-out after all – Toyota may have a tough time shifting its new small car. The ‘Go Fun Yourself’ campaign is refreshingly bold, but has the potential to alienate the Aygo’s core audience. And the front-end styling – with its rather dramatic cross design –  is likely to be divisive, too.

But hey, what do we know? We’re no longer the hip and trendy youngsters Toyota is looking to appeal to. Some would argue we never were.

The 1.2-litre engine is the best option

The real problem for the Aygo is that Toyota isn’t offering the 1.2-litre engine, forcing buyers to make do with the 1.0-litre version.

Big deal, you might shout. With recent advances in technology, a 1.0-litre turbocharged engine should be just the thing for our congested city streets. And you’d be right – to a point.

For pottering around town, the 1.0-litre engine is fine, but ask it to break sweat and it will moan, groan and make noises suggesting it’s going faster than it actually is. A 0-62mph time of 14.3 seconds compares to the 1.2-litre’s time of 11.0 seconds and whilst we wouldn’t normally pay too much attention to sprint times, it does serve to make a point here.

Peugeot 108 dials

The lack of pace is also evident when you leave the city and venture on to a dual carriageway or motorway. The 1.2-litre engine offers 82hp, which compares favourably with the 1.0-litre’s 68hp, giving the larger engined C1 or 108 greater all-round usability.

Overtaking manoeuvres can be tackled with great confidence and joining fast moving traffic is a less harrowing experience. In short, you’d think twice about taking the 1.0-litre cars on a long trip, but have no reservations about loading up your 1.2-litre French city car and heading to the coast. If you intend to take your city car out of the city, there really is only one option.

Up to 74.3mpg on a combined cycle

It’s not as though the 1.0-litre engine offers significant economy benefits. In standard form, the 1.0-litre could return 68.9mpg on a combined cycle, with the 1.2-litre offering 65.7mpg. The real advantage comes by adding Stop & Start to the 1.0-litre, with the combined figure jumping to 74.3mpg.

The problem is, you’ll invariably spend more time revving the 1.0-litre C1 or 108 in order to squeeze every last drop of performance from it, which will take a chunk out of any potential economy gains.

We’re pretty adamant here – the 1.2-litre engine is the one to have. And that’s despite an annoying flat spot when accelerating with any degree of gusto.

Rear of new Peugeot 108 Allure

Sadly, the gearbox does its best to strip away any degree of fun you may have in the Citroën C1 or Peugeot 108, both of which lag behind the up!, Citigo and Mii when it comes to driving pleasure. Heck, even the Hyundai i10 is a more satisfying drive.

The gear-change is notchy and at times, the five-speed gearbox needs genuine effort just to find a gear. It’s vague, loose and, more often than not, difficult to work out if you’re in neutral or in a gear. Make no mistake, the gearbox is one of the car’s weakest points.

Personalisation will be key to the success of these cars

Maybe we’re being too harsh. Both Citroën and Peugeot have made it pretty clear that these cars will be sold on the strength of finance offers and personalisation options. Buyers simply won’t be interesting in dynamics. Which may be true, but when the Volkswagen-based city car is so good, Peugeot and Citroën will have to deliver in other areas.

How about the interior? In truth, that all depends on how much cash you’re prepared to chuck at it. In naked form – i.e. Touch on the C1 and Access or Active on the 108 – the interior can feel pretty low rent. The worst offenders are the steering wheel and gear-knob, which have a sticky, rather unpleasant feel to them.

Peugeot 108 Active gear knob

At the very least, the Peugeot 108 requires the Porcelain ambience pack, which for £150 offers a white dashboard insert and centre console surround, along with a leather steering wheel and gear knob. Similarly, the White Interior Colour Pack offers the same treatment in the C1, but for £100.

After that, it all comes down to personal preference, but the choice of packs and themes on the Peugeot 108 is overwhelming. Would madam like Diamond, Kilt, Dressy, Barcode, Tattoo, Sport or Fondu? We’re only making one of those up.

Peugeot 108 Allure centre console in Porcelain trim

And the use of ‘madam’ is deliberate, as Peugeot is pinning its hopes on the ladies warming to the 108. As much is evident from the recently launched TV advertisement, which feels like a Flake advert from the 1980s. Only the crumbliest, flakiest interior. Oh wait, Peugeot has come a long way in recent years.

There’s a sense that the interior has been built to a price and that’s fine, this is a small city car after all. But when you hear vibrations and rattles from the rear of the cabin and irritating noises from the air conditioning unit, the C1 and 108 begin to feel less special than the marketing would have you believe.

And without wishing to labour the point about the Volkswagen triplets, you never once feel shortchanged in those. Heck, even the sombre and uninspiring interior found in the new Hyundai i10 feels more robust.

Peugeot 108 Top! dashboard

All this is pointing to a ‘could do better’ conclusion, which is a shame, as PetrolBlog has a thing for small French cars. So we’ll attempt to highlight some of the car’s plus points.

With a few optional trimmings, these cars begin to make sense

Interior space is very good, with plenty of room for four adults. Headroom in the back is excellent and would shame some larger cars. And – when a few optional trimmings have been applied – both the 108 and C1 feel like a huge improvement over their predecessors. Which, of course, they are.

The steering is also nice and light, making it well suited for city use and, once you’ve stepped up from the entry level C1 Touch and 108 Access, the specification is genuinely impressive. Manual air conditioning, 50:50-split rear folding seats, LED daytime running lights, DAB digital radio, Bluetooth and steering wheel controls provide just about everything a city dweller could want from their car.

And the 7-inch touchscreen, with the ability to mirror the screen on your smartphone is wonderfully forward-thinking. It’s just a shame that you have to pay extra for the lead to connect your phone.

Unless you really, really want the benefit of a folding fabric roof, you’d be better off avoiding the 108 Top! and C1 Airscape editions. At anything over 20mph, the wind noise becomes unbearable, forcing you to close the roof. Spend your money on proper climate control, a rev counter or a space-saver spare wheel instead.

All-new Citroen C1 1.2

Citroën C1 v Peugeot 108: the verdict

So which one do you choose? As far as PetrolBlog is concerned, it has to be the Citroën C1.

It’s splitting hairs really, but in our book, the C1 looks that little bit better. In trying to crowbar its corporate face on to the 108, Peugeot has given it a front-end at odds with the playful and cheeky nature of the rest of the car.

Whilst appreciating we might be alone here, we reckon the front of the C1 just seems to work better. But the truth is, none of the cars – and this includes the Aygo – looks perfect and that’s because each manufacturer has been forced to apply a style to a set foundation. It’s a little like applying make-up, some do it better than others.

It really is quite simple. Avoid the 1.0-litre engine, resist the temptation to go topless and – for practical reasons – opt for the five-door. Choose between the Feel and the Flair, slap on a few must-have accessories, and hey presto, you have the perfect Citroën C1.

Just make sure you drive a few competitors first.

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

3 comments

  1. July 26, 2014
    rotation

    A couple of things:
    1. What should be first on to your scone? – Butter.
    2. Scone rhymes with gone. Nane of your nonsense. Next you’ll probably be saying that it’s ‘Cuventry’, or ‘Skedule’.

    Reply
  2. August 1, 2014
    Georg Von Trapp

    The 108/C1/Aygo trio only makes sense for someone who really wants to buy a Smart and “for a little more” can get one of these, a not-too-much bigger car with the advantage of not having only two seats.

    I cannot understand how anyone in their right mind would prefer buying one of these just because it is new, rather than a used Honda Jazz which although slightly larger, has four real doors (with four real windows), has real-world similar MPG, more safety kit, a better engine, higher build quality and more interior space for passengers and luggage than a VW Golf!

    Reply
    • August 6, 2014
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Like you, I’m warming to the Honda Jazz. There’s a lot to be said for its interior packaging and reliability record. Definitely feels like you’re getting more for your money.

      Reply

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